BILL OWNEY | POWER WAGON: The king of the big boys' toys

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The 2500 Heavy Duty Ram Power Wagon is shown. (Photo courtesy of Fiat Chyrsler Automobiles)

DALLAS — I was scratching out a living by selling cars at a Dodge shop in Dallas back in the early ’80s when the boss sent a couple of us across the Metroplex to pick up a used Power Wagon.

I didn’t know what that was, but the reverence in his voice when he said “Power Wagon” intrigued me. Plus, it was a slow day and at least I got lunch out of the deal.

When we got to the Fort Worth dealership, my partner took one look at the giant, shiny, red monstrosity and immediately let me know that he had no idea what all those gear shift levers meant and that even if he did, there was no way in God’s Creation that he was driving that thing through the Mixmaster at rush hour. I would have to pilot its return trip.

I grinned from ear to ear.

There she was, the only girlfriend I ever had in the Army, all dressed up and ready to play. Take off those shiny bumpers, take out the radio and the heating and cooling system and it was just another T137, a three-quarter-ton, cook on the fender, sleep on the tailgate, climb ev’ry mountain, ford every stream, search high and low, U.S. Army reconnaissance vehicle.

Hoo-rah!

What? You thought Army Intelligence moved around in black Suburbans? Only in the movies. In the 82nd Airborne, S2 lives a lot closer to the ground.

One could also find this truck living as an ambulance, a troop hauler, a communications vehicle, a repair vehicle, or just a plain ole truck. When Dodge first started painting them any color other than olive drab in 1946, they were the first civilian vehicle with four-wheel-drive. They were also first to offer power take-off, driving everything from post-hole diggers to beefy winches.

Not beefy wenches, for you guys who went to Germany. This is a different thing.

The point of all this is that when the nice lady sent an email saying she was sending out a 2020 RAM Power Wagon, I was curious to see how time had treated the old girl.

Then I saw her. O.M.G!

Please don’t tell Beautiful Blonde I am having these thoughts about a truck. On second thought, go ahead. Against her better judgment, she’s grown accustomed to my perversions.

First, it rides better

There are reasons why RAM trucks are the reigning, back-to-back Motor Trend Trucks of the Year, and why the heavy-duty version was named among the 100 Greatest Innovations of 2019 by Popular Science.

It rides well. Ford and Chevy continue to support the rear ends of their trucks with leaf springs, which, to be fair, was itself a stunning innovation when applied to Egyptian catapults in the 4th century BC. The technology is useful because it spreads weight load across a wide area of a frame. The downside is that the whole darn truck bounces on everything but the smoothest of surfaces.

Ram trucks use multi-link coil springs over the rear wheels, which give them a car-like ride. It’s like the difference between kneeling at the river and cleaning your jeans by pounding them on rocks and tossing them in a machine and watching a movie.

So, why, in their last two pickup redesigns, did Chevy and Ford continue to use leaf springs in the rear? It’s because the conventional wisdom holds that that’s what customers want. Leaf springs result in a greater payload (what goes in the bed) and towing capacities. A RAM 1500 has a payload of 2,300 lbs and can tow 12,750 lbs. An F-150 can carry 3,270 lbs. and tow 13,200 lbs.

How many folks do you reckon will ever come close to the max work capacity of their trucks, or can even tell you the average weight of a bass boat and trailer (about 2,400 lbs) or an average utility trailer (about 100 lbs. per foot). For that matter, how many Ford and Chevy owners do you reckon have even driven a Ram?

“I’ve driven a Ford for 40 years. I love the way it rides. I don’t need to drive something else,” says my brother-in-law without a hint of irony.

I see a lot of hard-working trucks around town, but I see even more air-hauling. The church parking lot is filled with shiny, clean, and empty trucks. Still, folks buy those numbers, that’s what you learn on a car lot.

Second, it loves to play

No one will argue that the Power Wagon is the most capable off-road truck on the road. It’s not as spry or as much fun as the lighter-weight Ford Raptor or Dodge Rebel, but if this thing can’t handle a trail, you’re going to have to custom-build something that will.

Or get something smaller. This 7,000-lb behemoth with a 149.3-inch wheelbase is about the size of two Jeep Wranglers. It has taller springs than a Regular RAM HD, plus chunky, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, giving it a total ground clearance of 14.2 inches.

With live axles front and rear, with 4.10:1 differentials and a 2.64:1 low range setting, the latest iteration Power Wagon can crawl up a steep grade better than my old girlfriend (and, Lord, did I put her through a lot). The rear axle is muscled up with an 11.5-inch ring gear and thicker axles for enhanced durability.

It has electronically disconnecting roll bars front and rear plus an extra joint in the front suspension that RAM calls Articulink. The Power Wagon has 26 inches of front wheel articulation, which is more than some competition rigs.

If all that won’t get you over the river and through the woods, a standard, 12,000-lb Warn winch will.

Finally, she’s a looker

Externally, the power wagon looks like a weight lifter on wheels. Inside, she reminds everyone she’s now a RAM, meaning she has one of the prettiest cabins on the planet.

Rear seats are a little flat, but the front seats are strong,  plush, something a sea captain would enjoy. Though she’s filled with tons of technology. Switches and gauges are intelligently laid out, easy to read and use.

Our tester, which started at $53,250 but was loaded up to $69,890, was as filled with gadgetry as the neighborhood Best Buy. Safety technology, like dynamic cruise control, was abundant. The sound system and phone integration worked flawlessly. A huge, 12-inch infotainment screen was pleasant to behold and easy to use. Heated front and rear seats and a surround-view camera system made parking and trailering a breeze.

And there was something I’d never experienced in a Power Wagon: A quiet interior. She seems settled, mature. I guess if people can move on, so can trucks.

Ply her with gas

Powered by the RAM HD’s standard 6.4-L Hemi V-8, the Power Wagon can get into freeway traffic with ease, thanks to 410 horses and 429 lb.-ft. of torque. Still, she’s a gas hog. We got around 12 mpg in combined driving for the week, and less than 8 mpg while hauling a trailer.

Not available on the Power Wagon is RAM’s unrivaled diesel, a $9,100 Cummins turbodiesel than can twist out 1,000 pounds of torque and tow up to 35,100 pounds in a properly equipped RAM 3500.

That’s an engine built for serious work. The Power Wagon, on the other hand, is the most serious plaything you can buy in a showroom.

If you buy one, tell her I miss her more than ever.

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